So far this season 15 different men have laced up their pitchin’ boots and come on for the Mariners in relief. The results have been… interesting. Mostly bad. But also interesting.
This season, the Mariners bullpen has recorded:
- The 29th best ERA (terrible) despite the highest strikeout rate (great!).
- The highest BABIP (unlucky and terrible) despite the lowest contact percentage (great!).
- The 24th best walk rate (bad) despite the 6th highest strike percentage (good).
- Their line drive percentage is also the fourth worst in baseball, suggesting that if batters do have success, they’re more likely to hit for extra bases.
So basically, Mariners pitchers are throwing a lot of pitches in and around the zone and hitters are taking monster hacks and either 1) missing completely and looking like idiots or 2) drilling the ball super hard to score lots of runs. As a fan, this is particularly frustrating because I know the Mariners are CAPABLE of throwing good pitches and doing good things… they just don’t.
You’d think that the best strikeout rate would be good for something. As we watch/listen to baseball throughout the season, the announcers on the telecast will tell us many times that strikeouts are a relievers best friend. I’d always imagined that this was due to the fact that often times relief pitchers will come into games in high leverage situations with runners in scoring position. In these scenarios, a fly ball or even a ground ball has the potential to allow the runners to advance or an important run to score. The best way to prevent this from happening is to string together a couple of strikeouts to ‘get out of the jam’. Using this line of thinking, it doesn’t really make sense that the Mariners bullpen would be struggling SO MUCH given their large strikeout rate.
So I looked at the numbers! Below, I’ve plotted both the strand rate and inherited runners scoring rate (two simple, similar metrics related to how well a bullpen can escape trouble and prevent runs) for each team’s relief pitchers this year against their strike out rate.
So, yeah. I guess if you want to believe some trend lines with R-squared values less than 0.04, you could point to these lines and say, “Hey! Inherited runners scored goes down with a higher strikeout rate! And the strand rate increases with a higher strike out rate!! Strikeouts are the best thing ever!!!” But the relationship does not seem to be very strong, so don’t do that. Please don’t do that. Strikeouts may feel great for relievers, but it sure seems like they don’t matter nearly as much as they could… Personally, I am shocked that baseball announcers would oversimplify/misunderstand something baseball-related during their telecasts. Joe Buck is my beacon of truth; I just don’t know what to believe any more.
Obviously there are a lot of variables that go into bullpen success. Throwing quality pitches is important. Getting ahead in the count is important. Not being too predictable is important. It’s difficult to know what matters most. Finally, relief pitching is notoriously unstable. The Mariners combination of best and worst hardly seems sustainable, but it’s the Mariners, so who knows? I suppose it’s better than being terrible at everything.